By Guest Writer
on 6.12.09

play-better-poker

By Gear Patrol Reader Jonathan Sohn

There are certain things that every man knows. Then, there are things that all men wish they knew. And, of course, there are still other things that all men think they know. Poker is one of the things that falls in to the last category, so on day 12 of the 30 Days of Upgrades Initiative, we’re going to try to help you upgrade your poker game.

It is the weekend, after all.

Know The Basics

More than likely, most men who have even a passing interest in poker (or not), will already know most of what we’ll discuss in this first section. Nonetheless, as a quick reminder, the game of Texas Hold’em (which is by far today’s most popular poker variant) is played with each player receiving two cards face down (hole cards), with five community cards coming out in rounds of three cards (the “flop”), one card (the “turn,” or “fourth street”), and one card (the “river”, or “fifth street”), respectively. Rounds of betting occur prior to and between each round. The highest five card hand at the conclusion of this progression will win the hand and the pot (provided the hand isn’t folded).

If you don’t know how to play Texas Hold ‘Em at all, then you might want to consider watching the video below. But you’re a man and you’re reading Gear Patrol, so I’ll make the assumption that you know how to at least cobble your way around a hand of poker.

Know The Math, Yes Math

poker-oddsHere’s where we’ll get into some of the more nitty-gritty aspects of the game. People often call poker a skill game, rather than a game of chance, because they feel that with the right information, the game really comes down to statistics and ability. For the most part that is an accurate statement. When experienced players get irritated with less experienced player for beating them, they’re usually frustrated over having had probabilities in their favor, yet losing. This, in and of itself isn’t an issue or something to get upset about, but when the player who just beat you has no idea that they just defied the odds, it can get frustrating (trust me, I’ve been there before). So, that being said, it’s time for you to be informed of how to calculate basic odds (you know, those percentages they have at the bottom of the screen on ESPN during poker tournaments), as well as understand some of the terminology involved.

Outs

The term “outs” refers to the number of cards in the deck that can win a hand for you (assuming you aren’t already in the lead). This number is relatively easy to calculate because, generally speaking, you’ll be going after a specific type of hand (e.g., a straight, flush, or full house).

As an example, if you already have 4 cards that can make a straight say, 6, 7, 8, and 9, you need either a 5 or a 10 to complete your straight. There are four 5’s and four 10’s in the deck, so that would give you 8 outs (to make your straight). For a flush, if you already had 4 Hearts, there are 13 total Hearts in the deck but you have 4 of them, so you have 9 outs (to make your flush).

Of course, there are combination-type hands where one card might give you a straight, but a different card might give you a flush; in this case, just add the different number of cards together to find out the number of outs you have. You might be asking yourself why this is important. Well, if you take the number of outs you have, multiply it by 2 and then add 2, it roughly gives you a percentage value of your chances of winning the hand. Percentages increase the likelihood of your success, and success equals gas money.

how-to-calculate-odds

Pot Odds

This is a term, in conjunction with “pot committed”, that gets thrown around a lot, but many people seem to have the wrong, or sometimes no, idea of its actual meaning. “Pot odds” refers to the odds you have of winning your hand versus how much you have to pay to continue playing the hand versus how much is already in the pot. Sound confusing? It kind of is, but not really, but kind of.

Say you calculated your chances of winning a hand using the super-great method spelled out in the previous section, and those odds have you at about a 25% chance of winning. Knowing this information, you must do a quick calculation of how much is already in the pot, and, if someone bets, what that ratio is to the amount already in the pot and how that corresponds to your chances of winning.

Example: Say $100 is already in the pot and someone bets $10. This is 10% of the pot, and, given that, your percentage for winning is at 25%. If the person had bet $40, the converse would be true.

If you know the math, the decisions become much easier to make. At the same time, its always going to be frustrating when a player who seemingly has no clue beats you constantly, so use the information at your own risk and mix it with intuition, feeling, and experience.

Know The Manners

poker-angerWe’ve all seen the professional poker player blow up on televised poker shows when they lose a hand that they feel they should have won. One player in particular springs to mind, who won’t be named here, but whose name rhymes with Bill Fellmuth (this video should prove my point). Sure, it’s frustrating to lose a hand, especially if the odds were in your favor, but that’s what makes the game interesting. If you lose a hand, don’t berate the other player for not knowing what he’s doing, just fold your cards in a slightly disgusted manner, and congratulate him on winning the hand. After all, you’re a gentleman. If you just can’t help but to yell at the guy, at least do so in a respectful and polite manner. Don’t make it personal, because nobody likes that guy. Everyone at the table is aware of how ugly his shirt is.

Poker is a game of both skill and chance, that doesn’t take long to learn, but takes a lifetime to master (hello, golf). Sound cliché? It is. The truth of the matter is that poker is an extraordinarily fun, rewarding, and, at times frustrating, game to play. The more you learn about it, the more enthralling it becomes as you realize that 100% perfection is unachievable. This balance caters to the deepest parts of the human psyche, and to us as men.

But, for the same reason you’re reading this, the more you know, the more entertaining it can be.

5 Other Tips To Help You Play Better Poker

  1. Fold! Don’t play every hand. Knowing how to fold well is one of the quickest ways to shore up your game. A good fold can be as good as a winning hand.
  2. Don’t play just for the sake of playing. Don’t bluff for the sake of bluffing. Have a reason and a method to your moves.
  3. Drinking, as fun as it can be (especially when it’s provided free), is the quickest way to watch your honed skills of calculation and strategies deteriorate.
  4. Pay attention to other players. When you’re not playing, watch them to see how they raise. Look for moments when they’re bluffing. Perhaps they’ve got a tell, perhaps they don’t. You’ll never know unless you watch.
  5. Don’t play games or stakes where you don’t feel comfortable losing money. The nervous edge will put you on tilt.

Resources

Poker Etiquette
10 Best & Worst Poker Hands
Poker Strategies (by skill level)
Comprehensive Poker Odds Calculation
Rule Of 4 Version

Lets continue the conversation. Do you play poker with your buddies or have any tips of your own to share? Leave them in a comment below for all to see.

Jonathan is a resident of Los Angeles and sometimes Las Vegas (when the mood strikes him). He is an occasional contributor to Gear Patrol and will attempt to help answer any question you have about poker or other casino game. Just leave a comment and see if you can stump him.

ADVENTURE IS ONE CLICK AWAY

Subscribe to GP for a daily dose of the best in gear, adventure, design, tech and culture. 5pm sharp.